She Looks So Perfect (A Irwin/M Clifford/ J Sinclair/E Valentine) and Don’t Stop (C Hood/L Hemmings/S Robson/busbee) and Amnesia (B&J Madden/L&M Biancaniello/S Watters) and Good Girls (A Irwin/M Clifford/J Wilkinson/R Stride/R Parkhouse/G Tizzard) – 5 Seconds of Summer 2014
5 Seconds of Summer are a pop-punk quartet from western Sydney who caught the zeitgeist of the digital/social media age by connecting with their net-gen fans via YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, projecting a faux rebellious image leavened with a self-deprecating goofiness that endeared them to their many young female fans.
Without a hit record, virtually zero profile outside of Australia, and absolutely no experience playing arena-size venues they literally fell on their feet when they scored a huge break as support act on UK boyband One Direction’s international Take Me Home Tour in 2013.
Luke Hemmings (lead vocal, guitar), Michael Clifford (guitar/vocals), and Calum Hood (bass/vocals) were all students at Norwest Christian College in Riverstone, western Sydney, who were obsessed with music from an early age and inspired by such bands as Nirvana, Green Day, Blink -182, Good Charlotte and the Foo Fighters.
Hemmings began posting videos of himself performing songs under the name hemmo1996 – in April 2011, his videos were Beiber-nuanced cover versions and Hood and Clifford approached him about forming a band, even though Clifford had reservations about Hemmings from their previous encounters at school, and this feeling was mutual. Hood brokered a peace between the two and the three posted their first YouTube video – a cover of Blink 182’s I Miss You, they followed up with an acoustic version of Chris Brown’s 2011 hit Next to You which racked up an impressive 600,000 hits by the end of 2011 – it’s now about 1.5m hits.
These early videos were far from perfect, bum notes, tentative vocals, forgotten lyrics, wooden stagecraft, lack of cohesion, but there was no doubting the sincerity of their efforts and their endearing charm, and boyband cuteness. The B word would become anathema to 5SOS over time, despite their close association with the #1 boyband on the planet in 1D, and the fact that they toured the world with them to breakout internationally; and even though they played their own instruments, their fan base was overwhelmingly very young girls – the classic boyband demographic profile.
Michael came up with the band’s sun-kissed name, it was not a UK weather forecast for April as some have wryly suggested, after they had correctly rejected “Bromance” as an alternative, and their first live gig was playing support for Adelaide four piece Some Time Soon, which they subsequently released on Facebook.
Ashton Irwin didn’t join the band until after this show when Michael Clifford invited him to play drums with them for a live performance at the Annandale Hotel (Syd) and at this time Calum segued to playing bass.
Ashton was 2 years older than the others and more experienced, he had unsuccessfully auditioned for the 2010 series of The X Factor Australia and was enrolled in a TAFE music course at Western Syd Tech at the time he hooked up with the other members of 5SOS.
They met with Adam Wilkinson of Studio 301 who signed them to his and Matt Emsell’s AWM management company, their pop-punk style was engaging and infectious, they also signed a publishing deal with Sony/ATV and garnered a big presence on Facebook and YouTube, taking the band on the road to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Gotta Get Out was their first original song released on YouTube in 2012– slower in tempo it still bounced along with a lilting beat, high vocal harmonies and bittersweet lyrics by Hood about love, heartbreak, hope and despair – the standard emotional wheel of fortune mined by young, aspiring songwriters.
The EP Unplugged was released in 2012 and climbed to #3 on the Australian iTunes chart and top 20 on the ARIA charts, their Facebook following had grown to 50,000, One Direction picked up on their growing fame and they were signed as support act on 1D’s tour of the UK, USA and Australia – the Take Me Home Tour comprised 107 shows, a potential audience of 1.3m fans and unimagined international exposure.
After travelling to London the band commenced recording at Nick Hodgson’s (ex-Kaiser Chiefs) Chewdio Studios, there were concerns about the band being typecast in the boyband genre because of the ID connection, but once they had played at a sold-out 1D concert at London’s O2 stadium they no longer continued to look the gift horse in the mouth, and got on with the tour.
Clearly the band were overawed, their support performances were OK but wooden, they lacked charisma, and real connectivity with the fans, they would need to get better.
By the time the tour had reached the BB&T Centre in Sunshine (Florida) they were playing in front of 20,000 fans, the tour moved on to more sold-out concerts in Miami, Louisville, Colombus, Nashville, New York and Washington.They were soon signed to Modest Management, the 1D international management company, in which the 1D band members had equity, which effectively made 1D their employers, they cut a recording deal with Capitol Records and formed their own subsidiary label Hey or Hi Records.
While in LA songwriting was a shared task, Luke and Mike would pair off and collaborate, the rhythm section of Calum and Ashton would do likewise, they were also working with Alex Gaskarth from All Time Low, Benji and Joel Madden of Good Charlotte, and other in-house tunesmiths including Eric Valentine and Steve Robson.
Their self-titled debut album had a punk-style red X sprayed across their bodies and their credo “Derping since 2011” – emblazoned on the inner sleeve, derping is teen shorthand for a self-deprecating, outsiderish attitude inherited from gaming jargon, it simply means messing about, Derpy is also the name of the band’s mascot, a My Little Pony toy the band had adopted.
Sleeve photos show the band pulling faces and refusing to look pretty, more Blink 182 than One Direction, many of the songs were written while the band was touring with 1D, except for Ashton they were still teenagers and reflected a teenagers preoccupation with girls, sex, partying, discovering themselves and surviving in a what was often a hostile environment in Sydney’s western suburbs. They were getting flack, including threats of violence according to Irwin, from haters at school and online, both Ashton and Michael’s parents were separated/divorced and the band members generally felt that the Riverstone environment was dysfunctional. They were also frantically absorbing the heady experience of touring the world performing in arena rock venues with the biggest boy band on the planet.
At this time they displayed an awkward teenage charisma, inspired by the juvenile Jackass-style rebellion of Blink 182, Good Charlotte’s nihilistic slick-sounding anti-everything anthems, and Busted and McFly’s cartoon goofiness- their intention was to entertain not inform. Their pretensions to social comment, notoriety, or political opinion did not rise above hating their hometown, pashing in the school library, letting your girlfriend wear your underpants, and a desire to be old enough to “do all the things you read in a magazine” – this also seemed to include Hood allowing several images of his genitals to be uploaded on Snapchat.
Their standard stage gear is skinny jeans, black cut-off vintage rock band t-shirts and they
proceeded to bash out torrents of trite teen-emo-romantic pop, but their debut hit single certainly ticked all the boxes.
She’s Looks So Perfect was produced by Jake Sinclair and Eric Valentine and released in Feb 2014 before the album, as a debut single it was a sublime three- minute wallop of crunchy chords, exuberant hey-hey-heys, and teenage angst. The lyrics were inspired by an incident that fellow collaborator/songwriter Jake Sinclair noted when he visited an American Apparel underwear shop and saw ads depicting girls wearing men’s underpants, later his girlfriend was wearing one of his t-shirts, and he drew the connection. Irwin liked the song’s shrill exuberance and mischievous lyrics, but Cliffford hated it, and no doubt it does have an obvious product placement reference in the lyrics, which some bands would have avoided, cross-dressing also features, which may also be a concern for some. Band members have played down the sexual connotations of the song and said that it was as much about escaping from the haters and violence of Riverstone and feeling like social outcasts in their own hometown, as it was about girls occupying boy’s underwear. However the girls and the cross-dressing theme was certainly more obvious and catchy than escaping the “horrors” of western Sydney.
The premise for the song is not new, there have been numerous songs about girls and clothes – LFO’s Summer Girls (Abercrombie and Fitch), Blue Suede Shoes (Elvis), These Boots are Made for Walking (Nancy Sinatra), My Adidas (Run DMC), after which followed a plethora of rappers namechecking Dior, Nike, Givenchy, Ralph Lauren, DKNY, and of course Australian Crawl had already skewered the brand-obsessed denizens of Toorak Rd. (Melb.) in 1980 with the classic Hootchie Gucci Fioruccie Mama.
It became a huge US hit as part of the She Looks So Perfect EP and sold 143,000 copies in the first week, the single peaked at #1 in the US, UK, Australia and NZ and sold over 3 million copies globally, it became a US summer anthem, and took out the ARIA award for Single of the Year in 2014.
The album was also very successful and peaked at #1 in fourteen countries including Australia, US and NZ and climbed to #2 in the UK, it sold in excess of 1.3m copies. The video featured people from different walks of life – students, housewives, prison inmates, fast food workers, cops, even a TV weathergirl, becoming moved by the song to strip down to their AA underwear, after some coaxing, the company, who had seen their sales spike by 10%, were forced to belatedly recognise the existence of the song.
Don’t Stop was the second song released released in May 2014, and was another pleasantly rackety tune anchored on guitar-bass-drums, more crunchy chords, and some less than inspiring vocal harmonies, and an even less impressive promo clip which featured the band as superheroes in cheesy outfits saving the odd damsel in distress with performance footage intercut with gratuitously hammy action shots. It climbed to #1 NZ, #2 in the UK, #3 in Australia and #47 in USA, ultimately becoming the band’s second million seller.
Amnesia was the third single lifted of the debut album and was a more restrained and interesting song, it was primarily written by the Madden and Biancaniello brothers and combined folky verses with an X Factor chorus, Calum Hood revealed some previously unheard vocal chops and a passable falsetto, it sold 1.3 million copies and the mellow pop rock of this song made it a top 10 hit in Australia, UK and NZ, and top 20 in the US.
The last single lifted off the album was Good Girls, which featured sexual stereotyping by repeating the chorus “Good girls… are bad girls that haven’t been caught.” The promo clip was set inside a women’s prison where the band are scheduled to entertain the inmates by playing classical music, the inevitable rock concert ensues, riot and mayhem erupts, and the whole confused mess shambles to an inevitable conclusion with the inmates liberating themselves. It was only a modest hit charting top 20 in Aust, NZ and UK and #34 in the US.
By the end of 2014, 5SOS had 3.4 million followers on Twitter, 1.6 million on Instagram, a YouTube account boasting 89 million views, and 5.2 million likes on Facebook, their debut single had been an international smash hit and only Ed Sheeran had prevented their debut album entering the UK charts at #1.The crucial follow up single and second album would be eagerly-awaited in 2015, and in the next 12 months the band would have to absorb the boyband backlash from the critics and establish their live performance credentials outside the bubble that was the 1D fanbase.